Pausing for a moment to check out the coverage of Taiwan-China relations in the international media in the context of the recent “peace offer” from President Hu of China.

Let’s start with the work of Jonathon Watts, writing in the Guardian, whose work on Taiwan before has been strongly colored by Chinese propaganda, scores another victory for Beijing with this description of the Hu offer:

Mr Hu held out an olive branch to Taiwan. “We would like to make a solemn appeal: On the basis of the one-China principle, let us discuss a formal end to the state of hostility between the two sides, reach a peace agreement,” he said. “We are willing to make every effort with the utmost sincerity to achieve peaceful reunification of the two sides and will never allow anyone to separate Taiwan from the motherland in any name or by any means.” Taiwan’s government rejected the overture as “devoid of significance”.

In the first sentence Watts fronts the paragraph with loaded language: Hu’s offer is described as “an olive branch,” a positive frame, instead of nuetral language. The omissions here are the key. Note that nowhere in the paragraph does Watts explicitly identify the issue: Taiwan must give up its independent sovereignty in order to enter into negotiations with Beijing. Nor does Watts mention why Taiwan might describe the offer as “devoid of significance” — China’s human rights record, and the fact that it points missiles at Taiwan. The reason no intelligent person takes Hu’s threat seriously as a “peace offer” is that it contains no concrete steps toward peace — no reduction of the military threat or easing of the suppression of Taiwan’s international space. And of course, it comes from the head of a Communist dictatorship. This rendering of the “peace offer” could hardly have been more pro-China if Xinhua had faxed it over to Watts.

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AFP’s report on Chen’s response is not as bad as the Watts piece, but it has its moments…

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian on Tuesday snubbed a peace overture made by China, saying Taipei would never sign what he called a “surrender agreement” based on Beijing’s “one-China” principle.

Chinese President Hu Jintao made the offer on Monday in his keynote speech at the opening of the Communist Party’s five-yearly Congress, but insisted independence for the island would never be tolerated.

“Since Hu Jintao still demands ‘one China’ as a precondition, this would be a surrender agreement rather than a peace agreement,” Chen said while on his trip to the northern harbour city of Keelung.

“Taiwan is our country, Taiwan is our motherland; therefore there is no such question if Taiwan is independent or not from the motherland,” said the independence-leaning Chen, qualifying Hu’s offer as mere lip service.

Except for the word “snubbed” the language isn’t too loaded. Chen’s nicely worded response: Taiwan is our motherland, so how can Taiwan be separate from the motherland? is quoted in full. Note also that since Chen is permitted to have his own voice, and that there’s plenty of concrete illustration of why Taiwan dismissed Hu’s stiff middle finger “peace offer” — items not present in the Watts report.

Chen called on Beijing to abandon the one-China principle, scrap an anti-secession law which provided it with the legal framework for retaking the island by force, and withdraw ballistic and cruise missiles aimed at Taiwan.

Despite this robust picture of Chinese threats, AFP can blithely go forward to report that, yes, Mad Chen© is the cause of increased tension:

Tensions have risen across the Taiwan Strait recently amid pro-independence rhetoric by Chen, who last month failed in the island’s latest bid to join the United Nations.

That error is simply pro forma international media reportage — Chen causes tension, China does not. The reporter also writes that the Anti-Secession Law provides “a legal framework” for China to attack Taiwan. Once again, the international media writes as if that piece of propaganda actually meant something as law. I suppose if you think China has the legal right to murder Taiwanese, you probably think Hu actually made a peace offer too….

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The International Herald Tribune carried an AP offers a more restrained view of things with less loaded language, beginning with the excellent and unjudgmental title:

Taiwan urges China to drop preconditions for talks on peace accord

The article then goes on:

Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian said Tuesday that China’s leaders must dismantle hundreds of missiles and recognize the self-ruled island’s separate identity before the rivals can negotiate an end to nearly six decades of hostility.

Beijing’s insistence that the two sides talk under the precondition that Taiwan recognizes it is a part of China is “out of the question,” Chen told reporters. “Negotiating a cross-Strait peace accord under the ‘one-China principle’ is not peace but an accord of surrender,” he said.

Chen’s comments came one day after Chinese President Hu Jintao called for a formal peace accord to be discussed under Beijing’s “one-China principle,” meaning that Taiwan must recognize that it is part of China.

Before beginning negotiations, Chen said, China must dismantle its military deployment targeted at Taiwan and abolish the 2005 “anti-secession law” that authorizes an attack should Taiwan formalize its independence.

Very nicely done as it (1) reports that Hu’s “peace offer” was actually a surrender demand, and (2) reports that China actually threatens Taiwan and (3) reports Chen’s position quite fairly. And before you complain that Watts faced space limitations, the three paragraphs that contain the meat of the information there total 109 words; Watts’ disaster, 91. Watts could easily have added a sentence to contextualize Taiwan’s rejection of Hu’s surrender demand. But why confuse the readers with facts?

But this is AP, so we have the [cue tap dancers] erroneous formula:

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949.

This version is especially awful: Taiwan and China weren’t fighting a civil war in 1949. That was being fought between rival Leninist parties in China. Taiwan was busy being looted and shoved back into the dark ages by Chiang et al.

Regrettably, the article then dilutes its description of the problem:

Chen maintains that China has more than 900 missiles aimed at military and civilian targets on the island.

Are the missiles a fantasy of Chen’s or what? By opening the sentence with “Chen maintains…” AP leaves open the possibility that Chen is in error on this issue. Sure. Further down AP redeems itself, however:

Though Taiwan’s government once vowed to reunite with the mainland, over the past several years it has emphasized its separate identity, drawing threats from Beijing.

Ordinarily, I’d bitch about some of the language here, but look at that last sentence.

it has emphasized its separate identity

The article, instead of attributing the claim of “separate identity” to some speaker in Taiwan, baldly asserts as a fact-in-the-world that Taiwan has a separate identity. Somewhere out there is an AP reporter to whom I owe one giant Jolly Scottish ale.

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AFP reported on the US reaction too, subtitling it (sadly):

Chinese President Hu Jintao has called for peace with Taiwan

You know what sucks? The pro-independence side has made repeated calls for peace and an end to military confrontation and threats by China. Think we’ll ever see a report that says that? I hope one day Chen has the good sense to similarly announce a “peace offer” in utter seriousness…..it would be a great propaganda move.

Cold War formulations still haunt the reporting on Taiwan-China relations. For example, it is common for journalists to describe Taiwan and China as “rivals” although they have not been “rivals” for anything since the beginning of democratization here.

The United States has given a cautious welcome to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s call for a peace agreement with long-time rival Taiwan.

AFP then falls into a very common error:

The United States by law has to help defend Taiwan from any military takeover by China.

There is no such law. The Taiwan Relations Act does not require the US to do anything concrete in the event of a Chinese move. Off to write letters…..